1. Squeeze – ‘Up The Junction’
Glenn Tilbrook’s tale of the rise and fall of a relationship takes in a party, pregnancy, marriage, cheating and divorce – all within three minutes. So it’s hardly surprising that they decided to chuck the chorus – how else would they fit everything else in?
2. Neutral Milk Hotel – ‘In The Airplane Over the Sea’
Fittingly for an album about a fictionalized relationship with Anne Frank, the title track dispenses with a chorus. And it’s glorious. Jeff Mangum’s vocals are sweet and nostalgic. When you’ve got lyrics like “What a beautiful face I have found in this place/That is circling all around the sun“, who needs a chorus?
3. Queen – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
Good old Bo-Rap. Instead of having one chorus, it has six. Which one do you want to focus on? The opening Mama, just killed a man“? Or how about “Figaro“? Or “Nothing really matters“? Or how about all of them? Whatever your preference, Mercury, Taylor and co proved that a track didn’t need to be linear to be a hit.
4. The Verve – ‘Bittersweet Symphony’
The driving force behind this track is the strings (sampled from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’). Omnipresent, they push the track forward. To add a refrain would only detract from that sense of surging momentum.
5. The Who – ‘Pinball Wizard’
The Who were never a group to do things by halves. ‘Pinball Wizard’ comes from the soundtrack to Tommy, a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who excels at pinball, so they were hardly going to do something so mundane as include a chorus, were they?
6. The Streets – ‘Turn The Page’
Inspired by ‘Gladiator’, Mike Skinner layered up some strings and opened ‘Original Pirate Material’. Rapping over tense violins, he alludes to his ancestors, noting “There’s sense in what I say, because I’m 45th generation Roman“. Sure ‘Fit But You Know It’ has got a chorus, but this is the real deal.
7. R.E.M. – ‘Losing My Religion’
Not only a No.1 that featured a stealth mandolin, but also a No.1 that tricked listeners into thinking it had a chorus. Though there’s a refrain of “I’ve said too much/I haven’t said enough“, there’s no chorus proper. Not that it needs one, thank you very much.
8. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Thunder Road’
‘Thunder Road’ is an incitement to lead a dead-end town in search of adventure. It’s a track about not looking back, or always facing forward. It makes sense then that’d there’d be nothing to hold the protagonist back, nothing to tie him to a format. No regrets, no choruses.
9. Radiohead – ‘Pyramid Song’
From ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ to ‘Fitter Happier’, uncommon song forms aren’t unfamiliar to the Oxford quartet. ‘Pyramid Song’’s unsettling rhythm combines with a slurred melody, and lyrics that change slightly but not enough. To add a comforting chorus to the track would have diminished its impact – there can be nothing familiar here.
10. Bob Dylan – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
Though most of Dylan’s tracks dispense with choruses (see also ‘All Around The Watchtower’), ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ ups the ante by instead having every couplet be as hooky as a chorus ever could be. Add that to an iconic video and who needs repetition?
11. The Beatles – ‘Hey Jude’
Written by Paul McCartney to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian after his dad’s divorce, ‘Hey Jude’ is seven minutes of chorus-free bliss. Who needs a chorus when you have four minutes of ‘na na na na’s at the climax?
12. Pink Floyd – ‘Money’
Pink Floyd were never exactly known for chart bangers, releasing few singles in their post-Syd Barrett years, but ‘Money’ is an FM rock staple thanks to its killer riff, unusual 7/4 time signature and till-sampling intro.
13. Lionel Ritchie – ‘Hello’
The song that inspired some of the greatest memes of our time will forever be played at every prom, wedding and sculpture class. But if it’s a chorus you’re looking for, move on buddy.
14. Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’
Who needs a chorus when you have riffs like this? Ever life performance of this song is so enthusiastic you don’t even realise you’re still singing the first verse, three minutes after you started headbanging.
15. Jefferson Airplane – ‘White Rabbit’
Not only were the lyrics of this trippy-as-fuck ’60s rock classic inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (witness the line about the hookah smoking caterpillar), but so was the song’s structure. Instead of employing a chorus, it marches its way to a glorious crescendo like so many tooled-up playing cards. Stay away from the brown acid, kids. And free your heads.
Additonal writing by Olayinka Aresa